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Emet m'Tsiyon

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Embellishing Muhammad & the Islamic Conquests, Long Before Edward Said

Edward Said complained in several books that Islam was not properly understood in America and in the West generally. Indeed, this was true. However, Said went on to claim that Islam was seen too negatively, too unfairly, in too hostile a light. A previous post here has shown that long before Said ["Distinguished Professor" of whatever or however he was called at Columbia University] scribbled his smug best-sellers about pathetic Islam, so cruelly treated in Western academia, there was in fact a trend to embellish the picture of the brutal, destructive Islamic conquests in the West. We quoted at length from Carl Brockelmann's History of the Islamic Peoples [first published in Nazi Germany, later translated into English]. Here are glimpses of how Muhammad and early Islam were depicted by Professor William R Polk, a teacher at Harvard who later became
"the member of the State Department's Policy Planning Council responsible for the Middle East in 1961."
[from the official bio of Polk on the website of his publisher, Simon & Schuster]
Perhaps even Said would have admitted that a member of the State Department's Policy Planning Council responsible for the Middle East would likely have been an important person in making US policy in the Middle East. Now, Polk was the senior author of a three-man work on the rise of the State of Israel, which the book describes as "tragedy" [Backdrop to Tragedy: The Struggle for Palestine (Boston: The Beacon Press 1957)]. Polk apparently was the one to recruit two younger scholars, a Jew and an Arab, to produce this book with him. The Jew wrote a section on "Jewish Interests in Palestine," the Arab wrote a section on "The Economic Framework of the Palestine Problem," and Polk himself wrote the section entitled "The Arabs and Palestine." The section called "The Historical Background" is indicated as having been written by all three, although since Polk was the senior personality and the only historian in the group, it is likely that he was dominant in writing this section, in setting the tone, in deciding what to include and what to leave out. Here is how Polk and his manservants saw Muhammad:
A "Hero," to borrow Carlyle's term, Mohammed was unquestionably a man of genius and great sensitivity. Although . . . he was a successful merchant in his own right [like the dominant men in Mecca] . . . , Mohammed belonged to a branch of the patrician tribe which seems to have been losing its political and economic footing in the community [Mecca]. Perhaps partly because of this he was acutely aware of Mecca's social problems. And although his personal motivations were surely complex, it is striking that both Mohammed's acts and words exhibit a considerable desire for a new social order in which men could assay to attain that brotherhood which he understood to have been the goal of "the prophets who went before." [p 11]
Our hero was sensitive, like Mother Theresa and Francis of Assisi. And he was a social visionary, just like the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount, like Eugene Debs or Norman Thomas, perhaps. He desired the brotherhood, the fraternite', that the French revolution called for.
. . . Mohammed was hardly the wild-eyed fanatic he has often been pictured as being . . . He was a practical, shrewd merchant and man of affairs. [p 12]
So maybe he wasn't a socialist revolutionary. Maybe just a shrewd bourgeois. But then,
Mohammed was able to formulate [in the Constitution of Medina] one of the most characteristic and praiseworthy features of Islamic society, organized tolerance, which we will subsequently meet in Palestine as it comes to be called the millet or community system. [p 12]
Aha, our hero was a champion of tolerance, "organized tolerance" no less. This was unfailingly demonstrated of course over the centuries of Islamic history by Muslim governments and rulers, and by rank and file Muslims. Let us just recall the Bulgarian contretemps of the late 19th century, the unfortunate Armenian affair during World War One, the unpleasant Smyrna Affair of 1922, and the Baghdad misunderstanding of 1941, called the Farhud. In the Land of Israel, called "palestine" by Polk & Company, this organized tolerance was demonstrated towards both local Jews and local Christians. Tolerance did exist, if the local dhimmi community, part of a larger dhimmi millet, could pay for it. Our experts go on to portray Muhammad's tolerance:
Very early in the Madinah period, however, Mohammed was disappointed by the Jews. Of first importance, naturally, was the refusal of the Orthodox Jewish community to accept his Mission. We know from the Koran itself that the Jews openly ridiculed the Islamic version of the Old Testament episodes. [p 12]
Of course, this doesn't mean that Muhammad was not tolerant. He was merely "disappointed by the Jews." Otherwise, brotherly love would have prevailed between Jews and Muslims. Polk & Co. go on about Islamic tolerance:
The price for this tolerance was acceptance of the civil authority of Islam. It was this unwillingness of the Jews of Yathrib [= Medina] . . . which led to a rupture between Mohammed and the Jewish community and to the final expulsion from Madinah of the Jews. . . . it was a similar unwillingness by Arabs, Greeks, Armenians, and others to pay the same price which was to be the reef on which the great multinational, multireligious Ottoman Empire was to crash in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. [p 13]
So it was the Jews' unwillingness which caused the problem. Anyway, Polk and Friends really put on a show to embellish the story of Muhammad's career, unless the reference to Greeks and Armenians is meant to be a hint, only for the cognoscenti of course, only for those already in the know. That is, if we already know the treatment of Greeks and Armenians --not to mention Serbs and Bulgarians-- in the 19th and 20th centuries by the Islamic caliphate embodied in the Ottoman Empire, then we may construe and extrapolate into the past what the Jewish experience in Medina may have been in Muhammad's time. By the way, are Polk et al. trying to hint that the Jews, Greeks, Armenians, and others ought to have simply submitted to Muslim authority without a fight??

Be that as it may, Polk & Cie. do not want to directly state that Muhammad perpetrated massacre and enslavement on the Jews of Medina, in addition to "expulsion." On the other hand, Alfred Guillaume, a Britisher no less, supplies a more graphic account --indeed a far bloodier one-- than that supplied by Polk et Cie. After the Battle of Badr,
Muhammad began a series of operations which was to end with the expulsion of the Jews from Hijaz [not just from Medina, but from all the Hijaz]. They had irritated him by their refusal to recognize him as a prophet; by ridicule and by argument. . . At his instigation one or two Jews were murdered and no blood-money was paid to the next-of-kin. [A Guillaume, Islam (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1956), p 43]
Now there's a man of peace and tolerance.
Muhammad's relations with the Jews had never been easy. [p 43]
Indeed. Hence, besides their refusal to accept his moral and religious authority,
. . . the existence of pockets of disaffected Jews in and around his base was a cause of uneasiness and they had to be eliminated if he was to wage war without anxiety. [p 44]
Let's remember that some things are really important, like waging war. Muhammad later turned on the Jewish Medinan tribe of Qurayza:
The execution of some 800 men occupied the whole day and went on far into the night. Only one Jew abjured his religion to save his life. The rest, after prayer and reading of the scriptures, went calmly to their deaths.[p 48]
The women and children were sold into slavery. This picture or narrative was just too gory for Polk & Friends, I suppose. Instead, they give us a picture of positive agape which they quote from a certain Sir William Fitzgerald. The latter writes of the conquest of Jerusalem:
Never in the story of conquest up to that time, and rarely since, were such noble sentiments displayed by a victor as those extended by Omar to the conquered. The lives, churches, and property of the Christians were spared. Freedom of religious worship was guaranteed. Muslim and Christian lived in amity.
[Polk et al., p 16; quoted from W Fitzgerald, "The Holy Places of Palestine in History and in Politics," International Affairs, XXVI, (1950), 4]
The conqueror, far out-numbered by the conquered, lived with him in amity. Anyway, Fitzgerald's tone demonstrates how much the foreign policy establishment in the UK wanted to view Arab history through rosey-colored glasses. International Affairs has long been published by the Royal Institute of Intenational Affairs, Arnold Toynbee's old home base. It is of interest that all three authors credited with this book were connected to Oxford University, the foremost university in the United Kingdom. Besides Polk, these are David M Stamler, a Jew, and Edmond Asfour, an Arabic-speaking Christian. Polk was a Fellow of the Rockefeller Foundation from 1951 to 1955, and at the time of producing the book, he was on the staff of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard. He went over to the State Dept in 1961, as discussed above.
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Coming: more on James Baker & US Middle East policy, more on Jews in Jerusalem and Hebron, peace follies, propaganda, etc.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Bush Threatens Middle East Peace with a "peace conference" -- Condoleeza soft on Hamas, like Tony

What's the background to George Bush II's threat to Middle East peace in the form of a "peace conference" to help Abu Mazen, the terrorist in a suit?

George the Second has earned fame for his pretense to be fighting a "war on terror." But when the chips are down, George follows his family's traditions. He comes from a family of Israel's enemies. Dubya's father, George I, was the patron of Jim Baker whose damage to life in the Middle East has been monumental. In the 1980s, George I, while vice president, encouraged Arafat to keep on fighting Israel in Lebanon [1982]. George I and Jim encouraged Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait, thus necessitating a huge American and allied military expedition to get the Iraqis out of there. In the interim between Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the start of American bombing of Baghdad in January 1991, Baker found time to help Hafiz Assad complete his takeover of Lebanon [see link above]. In other words, the final US position was that it was wrong for Saddam Hussein to take over Kuwait, an action which threatened the favorite old friends in the Middle East of the American Petro-Diplomatic Complex, the Wahhabite Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. But at the same time, it was OK for Syria to take over Lebanon [see link].
So much for James Baker.

George II has been advertising himself as an enemy of terrorism, fighting a "war on terror." Yet, his secretary of state, Condoleeza Rice [her first name is taken from the Italian phrase Con Dolcezza = sweetly, although Riso Amaro = Bitter Rice, fits her better] has her sympathies for some terrorists. Despite the official US position allegedly rejecting Hamas, which included some unfriendly remarks about Hamas in Bush's speech announcing the "international peace conference," Condi sees Hamas differently. Condi thinks that Hamas has been a "resistance movement" all along and now has an opportunity to become "political," just as Tony Blair was trying to promote a "political" Hamas as far back as 2002. This is the old illusion or cynical ploy that perhaps extremist fanatics can be made reasonable by having to bear the responsibilities of state power [which Hamas now holds in Gaza]. This illusion was broadcast about Hitler after his constitutional rise to power in Germany in January 1933, when the state president Hindenburg, appointed Hitler chancellor [= prime minister]. But Rice's sympathetic remarks about Hamas are a sinister foreboding of what Bush's "peace conference" could turn out to be. Just bear in mind the sinister consequences of Jim Baker's Madrid "peace conference" in 1991. It is plain that such conferences give Judeophobic empires, like the UK, the opportunity to gang up on Israel with the "peace" slogan as a pretext for aiding Nazis, in this case Hamas, just as Britain aided Hitler to get ready for World War 2 by means of the 1938 Munich "peace conference." Bush is holding out a carrot to Hamas and that can only encourage other terrorists to think that their crimes will be forgiven by the United States if they only promise to be good boys after their major crimes have been committed. Of course, taking the side of either Abu Mazen or Hamas on territorial and other issues in dispute with Israel can only encourage all of Israel's enemies to attack Israel and its people --and to raise their demands on Israel. Meanwhile, pro-Nazi "leftist" intellectuals like Ian Buruma, no`am chomsky, Pascal Boniface, Tariq Ramadan and others play the game of the empires.
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Coming: more on James Baker & US policy toward Israel, peace follies, propaganda, Jews in Jerusalem and Hebron, etc.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Buruma denies our time's resemblance to the 1930s

Ian Buruma is one of those fashionable academics who gets his opinion pieces published in the New York Review of Books and HaArets. He may be longer on opinion than on fact but that of course does not trouble the NYRB or HaArets. He pontificates on today's vital topics, war, peace, the Iranian bomb, Islamism, etc. His academic seat is Bard College in upstate New York where he teaches --God help us-- "human rights." That human rights may be his academic subject matter does not mean that he either knows what those rights are or that he respects them.

Buruma dropped an op ed at HaArets a few days ago. Richard Landes at Augean Stables did a well-deserved fisking job on it. I commented too and here is my comment, somewhat more polished and furnished with several references:

The kindest thing to say about Buruma is that he is in denial. In fact, his strong insinuation that concern about a future Holocaust is paranoid or stupid [I, Buruma, am too smart for that!!] is very offensive.
the term “Islamofascism” was not coined for nothing. It invites us to see a big part of the Islamic world as a natural extension of Nazism. Saddam Hussein, who was hardly an Islamist, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is, are often described as natural successors to Adolf Hitler. And European weakness, not to mention the “treason” of its liberal scribes, paving the way to an Islamist conquest of Europe (”Eurabia”) is seen as a ghastly echo of the appeasement of the Nazi threat.
. . . Revolutionary Islamism is undoubtedly dangerous and bloody. Yet analogies with the Third Reich, although highly effective as a way to denounce people with whose views one disagrees, are usually false. No Islamist armies are about to march into Europe - indeed, most victims of Revolutionary Islamism live in the Middle East, not in Europe
It seems to me that even a prof of “human rights” ought to know more than a superficial smattering of history. The Ba’ath Party of Saddam Hussein and of the Assads, still ruling in Syria, was founded in conscious imitation of Nazi and fascist ideology. Even as hopeless a Bolshevikoid Islam-lover as Eric Rouleau admitted that. We also have the personal testimony of Sami al-Jundi, one of the Ba`ath founders. "We were racialists. We were fascinated by Nazism, reading its books and the sources of its thought. . ." [See quote in Norman Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands in Modern Times, Philadelphia, 1991, p 106]. To be ignorant of all this is to be truly defective in knowledge of modern history. Richard Landes asserts that Stalin, not Hitler, was Saddam’s hero. There’s no problem here if we can set aside the silly left-right dichotomy of ideologies, the so-called “political spectrum.” Hitler too admired Stalin. Further, during the Nazi-Soviet Pact, the Soviet paper, Izvestya, declared that Nazi ideology was “a matter of taste” [November 9, 1939]. Moreover, Soviet Communists & Nazis joined in declaring a “struggle for peace” mere weeks after their joint invasion of Poland. So much for the distinction between Nazism & Communism. But buruma apparently has not studied that crucial and revealing period of almost two years of the Nazi-Soviet pact [August 1939 to June 1941]. His noxious essay seems to imply that somehow “Communism” or “leftism” is different from Nazism & fascism. He reminds me of the Commies of that time in the West who loudly proclaimed that Nazism was NOT a danger. Rather the danger was Anglo-French or Anglo-French-American imperialism. Recall that Commies in the French parliament opposed French rearmament in the 9/1939-5/1940 period.

Omitting another major historical fact, relevant to the fears of intelligent, sensitive and loyal Jews, is the Arab collaboration with the Nazis and in the Holocaust [read works by and about Sadat & Haj Amin el-Husseini, here and here]. Buruma’s omission of this issue makes him into an ignoramus. One might defend him by saying that this subject has not gotten and does not get the attention it deserves. But Buruma presumes to be omniscient enough to dismiss the fears that he attributes to “neocons,”
Still, Islamist rhetoric, adopted by Ahmedinejad among others, is deliberately designed to stir up memories of the Shoah. So perhaps the existential fear of some Western intellectuals is easier to explain than their remarkable, sometimes fawning trust in the U.S. government to save the world by force. . .
The explanation of this mysterious trust may lie elsewhere. Many neocons emerged from a leftist past, in which a belief in revolution from above was commonplace: “people’s democracies” yesterday, “liberal democracies” today.
Be that as it may, the "Neocon" label is a straw man that Buruma employs in order to avoid admitting that any knowledgeable, intelligent Jew should have these fears. This does not mean that it is wise to trust the US Govt or any other major power to save the world from IslamoNazis, Islamofascists, or a potential Holocaust. But that still leaves us with the problem of Islamic fanaticism, which repeats many of the Nazis' arguments, especially against Jews. Consider the Hamas Charter, which endorses the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" --both a plagiarism & a forgery-- and the widely reported remarks of Ahmadinejad.

Buruma makes a fool of himself by another argument, which I have encountered from others. The tyranny of Saddam or Ahmadinajad is laughable and of no importance since they are “weak.” But if Ahmadinajad gets the bomb then he’ll be strong. What asininity!!!
Ahmadinejad, his nasty rhetoric notwithstanding, does not have a fraction of Hitler’s power.
This “weakness” argument was not habitually used in defense of Franco in Spain, or Salazar or the Rumanian Iron Guard, or of Mussolini. And surely it could have been used to favor Mussolini since he had trouble conquering Ethiopia [a conquest supported by Saudi Arabia].

It turned out that Hitler’s Germany was not as strong as the US-USSR-UK-French coalition. Nor did he have the A-bomb, as RL points out. Were we supposed to feel sorry for his relative weakness???

By the way, in the late 1920s to 1941, Communists often portrayed Germany as the victim of Anglo-French imperialism. The French CP echoed Hitler’s own revindications of his territorial claims, although there was zig-zagging during the 1930s.
See link here.

Another curiosity in Buruma’s tract is that he accuses “neocons” of “sometimes fawning trust” in US power to save Jews and the world. Not so many years ago, post-Zionists and anti-Zionists were accusing Israelis and Zionists outside Israel of wanting to go it alone, of believing that “the whole world is against us,” of defying the peace loving international community, of harboring suspicions of the USA, of the UK, France, the Vatican, and the USSR. And this drivel too was published in HaArets. What those who belabored Israel for suspicion of the world powers’ goodness and those –like Buruma– who accuse Israel of trusting in American power have in common is that both belittled the Arab threat. As if Israel only faced an Arab threat.

Now, let’s take a “leftist” tangent and recall Lenin’s definition of imperialism. According to him, it was finance capital, essentially. But don’t Arab powers possess huge amounts of capital nowadays? Don’t Arab sheiks and princes own much stock in Western capitalist corporations and much real estate in Western lands? So portraying the Arabs as weak from the angle of capital possession is simply false today. Hasn’t buruma noticed??

This essay is contemptible. That’s what is to be expected from HaArets.
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Coming: More on James Baker & US policy, Milka Levy-Rubin on population transfer upon the Arab Conquest, Jews in Jerusalem & Hebron, propaganda, peace follies, etc.

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